Wow, I can’t believe that it’s been two months since my last substantial blog post! But it is Summertime and family activities take priority over the blog. We did some camping, made a trip to California to see family, and have generally been having a blast enjoying the nice Summer weather.
Now it’s time for a long overdue blog post.
Two months ago we built a very simple example of a dashboard in Excel (click here). Since we built it from an Acumatica OData connection, we were able to refresh it with live, up-to-date data by simply clicking a button in Excel.
Of course, I am a big proponent of Excel because it has a long history of being a mature reporting product. It has been built over three decades and has over 800 million users. These users have used Excel for all sorts of different applications in the real world. They of course generate feedback which has in turn steadily transformed Excel into a very mature reporting solution.
Currently, in my opinion, Microsoft Excel is the best application for consuming the OData connection that is available in Acumatica for two main reasons:
- Most companies already own Excel
- Excel is already a robust calculation and reporting software application
How robust is it? Consider this, if you go to business school, the chances are that you are going to be using Excel heavily in order to solve real world business problems. If you go to work on Wall St., you will not be able to survive, unless you acquire advanced Microsoft Excel skills. There is even an annual competition called ModelOff (click here) designed for these Wall St. types and the competition attracts over 4,000 people.
Schools like UT Austin in Texas have entire business courses that are dedicated to teaching their students Microsoft Excel. One such course is taught by professor Clint Tuttle, a man who is so passionate about Excel, that he even makes music videos like this one (click the picture to see the video):
I already mentioned the over 800 million users who are constantly placing demands for more and more features. When you consider that Excel has been around for 30 years, you realize that there are a lot of features available. It is a very mature application. Even Bill Jelen (aka Mr. Excel) admits that he rarely walks into a room to give a seminar about Excel without learning something new himself.
Bottom line, even though Excel is not an all-encompassing reporting solution, it is a lot more powerful than most people realize.
The Excel Problem for Acumatica Users
This is all great, but we have a problem.
With the simple dashboard that we built two months ago, someone has to open Microsoft Excel on their desktop computer in order to use it.
This is especially problematic for an Acumatica user because an Acumatica user is accustomed to being free to access Acumatica anywhere they want. They can access it from their computer, they can access it from their phone, and they are not tied to their Microsoft Windows desktop environment.
I’ll admit that it can seem archaic to an Acumatica user when they are told that they need to use Desktop Microsoft Excel in order to do some reporting.
Wouldn’t it be nice if I could open an Excel file in my web browser just like I open a regular web page, just like I open Acumatica?
The good news is that there already is such an application and it is called Excel Online.
Excel Online is web-based Excel.
Applications like Excel Online have received a lot of attention from Satya Nadella, the new CEO at Microsoft. Satya has talked a lot about making Microsoft a cloud company, a company that delivers their software in the cloud, in the browser, on mobile devices, and not just on Desktop computers.
What has been interesting is to see how quickly he is taking Microsoft in this new direction and I think many are surprised to see how quickly Microsoft is actually executing on the vision outlined by Satya.
Excel Online is one of many examples which demonstrate what the future looks like for Microsoft applications. As time goes on, Excel Online is beginning to feel more and more like Desktop Excel. Interestingly enough, Desktop Excel is beginning to feel more like Excel Online. For example, you can now embed web apps into Desktop Excel documents by inserting them from the ribbon.
This just goes to show that the entire Excel experience, both with Excel Online and with Desktop Excel, is beginning to feel like one giant web application. This is not an accident, it is simply the execution of Microsoft’s new strategy. It seems like eventually there will only be one Excel product with two versions: a Web version and a Desktop version.
Microsoft has already accomplished this with Windows. The next version of Windows, Windows 10, is one Windows code base. It is just one collection of computer code, but it can be deployed on a Desktop computer, on a Tablet, on a Phone, or even in the Cloud. I believe that we will eventually see the same thing happen with Microsoft Excel.
If this “one code base, any device” philosophy sounds familiar, it should. Acumatica has been doing this since it began in 2008 and it is a part of the Acumatica DNA.
Web-based Acumatica, meet Web-based Excel (Excel Online)
Recently I realized that, since OData is a secure way to deliver Acumatica data over the internet, it might be possible to connect to an Acumatica data source from the Excel Online web application, not just from the Excel Desktop application.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that this is indeed possible using Excel Online and Office 365.
In the video below, I would like to show you how to take the dashboard that we created two months ago, upload it to Excel Online, and actually refresh the Excel Online dashboard with live data from Acumatica, all within your web browser, without ever having to open the Desktop Excel application.
Then, as a final touch, we can take our Excel Online dashboard and embed it within Acumatica, completely hiding the fact that we used Excel to make the report! We just need to use the following secret code: &action=embedview&wdbipreview=true
Checkout the video!